The worms crawl in...

I opened the Worm Chamber on Tuesday, and for a variety of reasons, haven’t written about it. I know, you’ve been dying to know what’s going on in there, and I’ll get to that.

But meanwhile, I'm reading a book by Charles Darwin about earthworms, because I thought I should bone up on the subject. It’s pretty interesting, and has caused me to question all kinds of things about my life that I won't go into here, but what's relevant is that I’m losing heart for the aimlessness and possible cruelty of my worm project.

Darwin was so fond of his worms. He says, "I was desirous to learn something on this head, as few observations of this kind have been made, as far as I know, on animals so low in the scale of organization and so poorly provided with sense organs, as are earthworms."  I was struck by the phrase “so poorly provided” because, well, it just doesn’t sound very Darwin-ish. It implies that senses were bestowed upon the worms by a supreme being.

The tone of the book implies that worms are humble and content to do more with less than we humans are.  As if the worms made a modest request, "Sure, whatever, bestower of stuff, if we could have ears, that'd be terrific. No? No ears? How about vision? Oh, no? We're fine with just being able to sense big feet trembling, if that isn’t too much to ask. That's all we need. Like Steve Martin in The Jerk, only different. Nothing opposable, no senses, not even an arm, for gods sake. There’s something about the book that makes me feel as though humans aren’t just greedy with stuff, as we already knew, but we’re sort of wasteful in the senses and extremities department. The worms do more with less. Well, okay, they do less, but with WAY less.

Darwin studied every single thing about the worms, for a lifetime. He identified food preferences (cabbage leaves), and studied intelligence (when blocking the opening to their burrows, the worm drags it in smaller-end-first, which is the logical way to do it.) And, most amazingly, he watched rocks, the same exact rocks, for 30 years, and measured subsidence, which he attributed to worm action. Do you get that? There were rocks sitting on top of a field for 30 years, and he measured how they slowly sunk down into the dirt. Thirty years. Same rocks. Before YouTube.

So all this has made me of tiny attention span question what the point of counting worms once a week is. I know. Every Wednesday, I count, but I really do it on Tuesday so that R. can stand by and yo-yo, because it’s just a little more festive that way.

I’ve begun to wonder if it’s cruel to keep worms in captivity like this. Maybe they were in the middle of their own important project, like moving boulders slowly down into the depths of the earth. These humble little creatures, so un-endowed when it comes to senses and appendages, but doing their work, steadily, uncomplainingly. Is it wrong for me to move them like this?

I’ve also been awestruck by Darwin’s book, and how much curiosity and persistence he had, and how things can be so mundane on the day to day, but build into something amazing if you stick with it.

But the answer you’ve been waiting for? Two. Two worms. It might be because I didn’t have the heart to really sift through it all thoroughly, or maybe something is wrong in there, and they’re dying. Or maybe it was just their time.


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